Most Americans feel powerless to prevent data collection, online tracking

Most U.S. adults say that the potential risks they face because of data collection by companies (81%) and the government (66%) outweigh the benefits, but most (>80%) feel that they have little or no control over how these entities use their personal information, a recent Pew Research Center study on USA digital privacy attitudes has revealed.

USA digital privacy attitudes

Interesting discoveries on USA digital privacy attitudes

The study has also shown that:

  • 72% of respondents feel that all, almost all or most of what they do online or while using their cellphone is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or other companies. 69% believe companies are tracking at least some of their offline activity.
  • Roughly six-in-ten Americans believe it’s not possible to go through daily life without having data collected about them by companies or the government
  • Most respondents report being concerned about the way their data is being used by companies (79%) or the government (64%).
  • 79% of respondents are not too or not at all confident that companies will admit mistakes and take responsibility if they misuse or compromise personal information
  • 70% of respondents say their personal data is less secure today that it was five years ago
  • Only one-in-five of the respondents say they always (9%) or often (13%) read a company’s privacy policy before agreeing to it, and 36% say they never do. Simultaneously, 57% of respondents say they are not too confident or not at all confident companies follow what their privacy policies say they will do with users’ personal data.
  • 78% of U.S. adults say they understand very little or nothing about what the government does with the data it collects. 59% say the same about the data companies collect. 63% of respondents say they understand very little or nothing at all about the laws and regulations that are currently in place to protect their data privacy.

USA digital privacy attitudes

It’s also interesting to note that nearly half of respondents are ok with the government collecting data about all Americans to assess potential terrorist threats, improve educational outcomes and being able to get access to Americans’ DNA data to help solve crimes, but three out of four respondents don’t want social media companies to monitor users’ post for signs of depression (to connect them with mental health professionals) or smart speaker makers to share users’ audio recordings with law enforcement to help with criminal investigations.

Are we approaching a tipping point?

Are Americans ready to tackle the digital privacy issues they obviously see and are concerned about?

While some U.S. lawmakers are trying to push through legislation that should improve Americans’ online and offline privacy prospects (and some have succeeded), most are having trouble understanding the potential negative consequences of different technologies and/or are unwilling to put a stop to some practices lest they be labeled anti-business.

In the meantime, American consumers have little effective power to do something about the data collection.

But perhaps the time has come to, as they say, vote with their wallets? There is a variety of secure, private services out there and more cropping up every week.

Some are paid (e.g., new social platform Neone), some rely on donations (e.g., Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales’ news focused social network WT:Social), but promise no advertising, no data tracking, no data selling, more effective content serving, the possibility to do something about the propagation of fake news, etc.

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